Linda McGee and Billy Beahan lead the funeral cortege from St Mel's Cathedral as it makes its way to Mr McGee's native Colmcille PICTURE: MICHELLE GHEE
It was a fitting tribute to one of Longford's most iconic figures. 'Ingenious' was how lifelong friend PJ Cunningham summed up the virtues of Eugene McGee last Thursday as mourners lined out in their hundreds to bid farewell to the well respected GAA legend and sports journalist.
Not even the sudden opening of the skies overhead could dampen affairs or the lengthy list of household names who had come to pay their final respects.
And why would it? This, after all, was a man, who despite his umpteen professional and sporting accolades over the years, lived and breathed all things Longford.
A proud patron to St Christopher's or 'the heartbeat of Co Longford' as Fr Michael McGrath termed the organisation, was evidence aplenty that here was a man who went above and beyond his chosen profession or beloved pastime.
Of course, the Colmcille native will be forever remembered and idolised by Offaly supporters for his role in steering The Faithful County to All-Ireland glory in 1982.
Poignantly, the ball used in that game was one of the gifts presented during his funeral Mass alongside a copy of his 2014 publication 'The GAA in My Time'.
A devout family man, it was fitting that Eugene's daughter, Linda led the funeral cortège from the family home, along the Battery Road, down Main Street and to the cathedral, perched on her distinctive trike, which was driven by Billy Beahan.
A lengthy guard of honour lined both sides of the entrance from the famous building's forecourt to its entrance, many of whom hailed from the worlds of GAA as well as local and national media.
As the mass got underway, Fr McGrath chose to read out a speech given by Offaly footballer Seán Lowry to his colleagues before the 1982 final.
“Lads, you’re playing for yourselves, your family and your county, and for people you’ll never see or meet. People from all over the world this weekend, from places like America, Australia, New Zealand, they’ll all have their chest out on Monday if you beat Kerry.
“You’ll never see them. These are the old people living down small country roads all over Ireland who are rooting for you today, but you’ll never meet them and you’ll never realise the huge lift you’ll give all those people if you go out and beat Kerry today.”
In doing so, he noted how the father of two “was always rooted in his Longford place of birth” and his advice had been “to remain true to the local”.
They were sentiments which were echoed with heart-warming emotion by Mr Cunningham.
“Most of you will either have known Eugene either personally or through his writings and one thing I know for sure is if you do you will know that he hated pomp, he hated bombast,” said Mr Cunningham as he addressed onlookers inside a thronged St Mel’s Cathedral.
A former Offaly player himself, Mr Cunningham rhymed out the many teams his long time confidant had been involved with over the years and most memorably that of his own native county.
“When you think of all the teams Eugene was involved with and successful with, Newtowncashel, Colmcille, Cavan, UCD and Offaly, what does that tell you about Eugene McGee?” Mr Cunningham asked.
“He knew how to find talent and harness talent.
“Eugene had ingenious ways of getting his point across.
“If you didn’t know Eugene McGee, he would appear a bit gruff, maybe self absorbed. But as those of us who knew Eugene, far from being self absorbed or gruff, Eugene was kind, caring and considerate.”
Many of those idiosyncrasies were in evidence just four days earlier when carrying out his last and perhaps most important duty-seeing his only son Conor walk down the aisle to exchange wedding vows to his bride, Saoirse.
In making reference to the occasion, Mr Cunningham said it bore poignant hallmarks to those of 37 years earlier when his Offaly side helped prevent Kerry claiming an historic five-in-row.
“Eugene in a similar way had a race against time with seven minutes to go in 1982 when he sprung Seamus Darby from the bench,” he said.
“Last Saturday he had an All-Ireland win and that All-Ireland was to see you (Saoirse) officially welcomed into the McGee family.”
For his part, Conor alluded to the difficulty he and his family had endured in the days since as the enormity of Eugene's sudden passing hit home.
In a stirring tribute to his father, Conor said despite everything and all his many commitments, family always came first.
“I can’t understand how he did all that while being such a devoted husband to my Mam, and father to me and Linda. I can’t recall a single time in my life when anything came ahead of us,” he said.
And that, maybe, just maybe, is Eugene McGee's greatest triumph of all.
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